World War Two: Sicily (2-7);Invasion-First Day

The Axis Reaction: The Axis was unable to react effectively against the initial Seventh Army landings. At 0430, 10 July, the first enemy planes appeared over the Allied shipping massed in front of the assault beaches. The destroyer Maddox took a direct hit and sank within two minutes, just before 0500, and a mine sweeper went down at 0615. Enemy fighters shot down several planes that were spotting targets for the cruisers’ guns, and occasionally enemy bombs fell in the transport area. The air raids interfered but little with the landings.

[N2-7-1 The spotting aircraft were SOC’s (Seagull scout observation float planes), Curtiss single radial engine biplanes with large single floats and two-man crews: pilot and radioman. The aircraft were used primarily for spotting gunfire and for scouting purposes and had a top speed of 116 miles per hour. Each U.S. cruiser had two catapults and carried four SOC’s.]

Axis commanders were already trying that morning to stem the American advances. To counter the Gela landings and back up the weak XVIII Coastal Brigade, General Guzzoni attached to the XVI Corps the two Italian mobile airfield defense groups intended for the defense of the Ponte Olivo and Biscari airfields, the Livorno Division, and the Hermann Gӧring Division (minus Group Schmalz). He wished these forces to counterattack before the Americans could consolidate a beachhead. At the same time, despite his continued apprehension over an Allied landing in the western part of the island, Guzzoni ordered the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the larger part of which had just completed its transfer to the west, to retrace its steps and return to the Canicatti-Caltanissetta-San Cataldo area in the center of the island.

[N2-7-22SA IT 99a; Faldella, Lo sbarco, p. 1113; MS # C-077 (Rodt); MS #T-II, K I (Kesselring); MS #C-095 (Senger), KTB entry for 1425, 10 Jul 43· This manuscript contains certain entries from the war diary of the German liaison staff with the Armed Forces Command, Sicily; the war diary itself is not available. These war diary excerpts will be cited as follows: KTB entry, hour, and date.]

With these new units, the XVI Corps intended to launch a co-ordinated attack against the Gela landings, the Hermann Gӧring Division and the two Italian mobile groups to strike from the northeast, the Livorno Division from the northwest. But since telephone communications, poor to begin with, had been almost totally severed by the scattered groups of American paratroopers and by Allied bombing raids during the night, many of the units failed to receive the corps order. They proceeded to act on their own initiative according to the established defensive Parts of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (an infantry regiment, plus artillery and other units) were operating under Schmalz’s control on the east coast; other smaller elements had not yet made the move to the west. Basically the two major units involved in moving back to the east were Group Ens and Group Fullriede. doctrine for the island.

The broad fronted, massive, co-ordinated push visualized against the Gela beaches would turn out to be a series of un-co-ordinated, independent thrusts by small Axis units at varying times and at various places along the center of the American front. General Conrath, the Hermann Gӧring Division commander, had learned of the American landings early that morning, not from the Sixth Army headquarters but from messages relayed to him from Kesselring’s headquarters in Italy and from his own reconnaissance patrols, several of which clashed with American paratroopers near Niscemi. Later, word from Colonel Schmalz reporting his commitment of troops against the British landings convinced Conrath that the time had come to carry out the predetermined defense plan. He decided to counterattack at Gela.

The German division was not altogether unprepared. General Conrath had alerted his units at 2200 the previous night, instructing them to stand by for definite word on the expected Allied assaults. Because his communications with both Sixth Army and XVI Corps had gone out early on 10 July, and because he wished someone in authority to know of his counterattack plan, Conrath phoned General von Senger, the German liaison officer with the Sixth Army, outlined his plan, and told him he was jumping off without delay. [N2-7-5] He was not aware of the XVI Corps’ plan for a co-ordinated attack. N or did he know that his division was attached to the corps for the attack. The bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division was assembled in and around Caltagirone. Conrath had organized the division forces into two reinforced regiments, assembled as task forces.

[N2-7-6] One, heavy in infantry, consisted of a two-battalion infantry regiment mounted on trucks, an armored artillery battalion, and an attached Tiger tank company of seventeen Mark VI tanks. [N2-7-7] The other task force, heavy in tanks, had a two-battalion tank regiment (about ninety Mark III and Mark IV tanks), two armored artillery battalions, and the bulk of the armored reconnaissance and engineer battalions, which functioned as infantry.

[N2-7-5 It seems odd that Conrath could contact Senger, but not General Guzzoni or the XVI Corps. He presumably used a separate German telephone net.]

[N2-7-6 Called Kampfgruppe, a term loosely assigned to improvised combat units of various sizes, usually named after the commander. See MS #R-137, ch. VIII, The Counterthrust on the First Day, 10 July 1943, Axis Tactical Operations in Sicily (Bauer), pp. 4-6. For a complete order of battle of the Hermann Gӧring Division, see MS #R-125 (Bauer), pp. 46-49; for its tank strength, see pp. 50-51.]

[N2-7-7 The colloquial name, Tiger, was not applied officially to this tank until 1944. This was a heavy tank, 60 tons, with a 5-man crew, an 88-mm. gun as main armament, and carried the thickest armor ever to be fitted on a German tank up to this time. The vehicle was 21 feet long, 12 feet wide, and could do 15 miles per hour on roads, 5 miles per hour cross-country. The Tiger tank company, part of the 115th Tank Battalion, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, had been left behind when that division moved to the west, only the forty-six Mark III and Mark IV tanks of the battalion having gone along. The Tiger tank company was attached to the Hermann Gӧring Division either just before or at the beginning of the operations.]

General Conrath planned to commit his task forces in a two-pronged attack toward the beaches east of Gela. The troops were to move on three secondary roads to assembly points south of Biscari and Niscemi. With the infantry-heavy force on the Biscari side, both were then to jump off in a concentric attack on the beaches. Conrath hoped to begin his attack before 0800, 10 July, for a later hour would put the sun in his men’s eyes and make it easier for the Americans to locate his units. Besides, the earlier he could attack, the better his chances for success. Both German task forces were on the move shortly after 0400.

[N2-7-8 The Mark III was a medium (240-ton) tank, carried a 5-man crew, and was armed with a long-barreled 50-mm. or short-barreled 75-mm. gun. It was 17 feet long, almost 10 feet wide, could do 22 miles per hour on roads, and about half that speed cross-country. The Mark IV medium (26 tons) tank also carried a 5s-man crew, but was armed with the long-barreled, high velocity (3,200 feet per second) 75-mm. gun. It was 19 feet long, about 9 feet wide, and had roughly the same speed characteristics as the Mark III.]

Although the roads had been previously reconnoitered and found to be passable, if mediocre, the approach march to the assembly areas turned out to be much slower than Conrath had anticipated. Allied armed reconnaissance air strikes against the columns and clashes with scattered groups of American paratroopers caused some confusion and delay. Accompanying his tank regiment, Conrath had to work hard more than once to prevent panic among his inexperienced troops and admittedly not very capable junior commanders. The task forces soon lost contact with each other, and 0800 came and went with both groups still struggling toward their assembly areas. [N2-7-99CA: Italian coastal defense troops fleeing inland from Gela and Scoglitti with confusing and alarming reports of speedy American advances did little to help.]

Meanwhile, the Italian Mobile Group E under XVI Corps orders had started its movement south from Niscemi. Organized into two columns, one moving along the secondary road leading to Piano Lupo and Highway 115, the other turning west toward Ponte Olivo to pick up Highway 117 for a drive south on Gela, the group had no contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division. But it was aware of a corps order to the Livorno Division to commit a battalion in an attack on Gela from the northwest. Moving by truck, this battalion approached a jump-off point near Gela for an attack in conjunction with the mobile group.

At 0800, 10 July, therefore, three Axis forces were moving against the center of Seventh Army’s front. In the path of these forces lay the special force in Gela, the 26th RCT moving around Gela toward Highway 117, the 16th RCT advancing toward Piano Lupo, and the badly disorganized 180th RCT immediately east of the Acate River, with one of its battalions preparing to push from Highway 115 to Biscari. Elsewhere, there seemed to be no contest. On the right, only a few static Italian defensive positions remained. On the left, the XII Corps was trying to scrape together enough units to halt, or at least slow down, the Americans until the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division returned from the west.

The Battle

At Casa del Priolo, halfway between Piano Lupo and Niscemi, where less than 100 men of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had, under Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Gorham, reduced a strongpoint and set up a blocking position, an American soldier saw a column of Italian tanks and infantry heading his way. Alerted, the paratroopers allowed the point of the column, three small vehicles, to enter their lines before opening fire, killing or capturing the occupants. The sound of firing halted the main body.

After thirty minutes of hesitation, about two infantry companies shook themselves out into an extended formation and began moving toward the Americans, who waited until the Italians were 200 yards away. Then they opened a withering fire not only of rifles but of the numerous machine guns they had captured when they had taken the strongpoint. Their first fusillade pinned down the enemy troops except for a few in the rear who managed to get back to the main column.

Several minutes later, the Italians moved a mobile artillery piece into firing position on a hill just out of range of any weapon the paratroopers possessed. As the gun opened fire, a previously dispatched paratrooper patrol returned and reported to Colonel Gorham that there appeared to be no strong enemy force at the battalion’s original objective. This was the road junction on Piano Lupo, where only a few Italians armed with machine guns held a dug-in position surrounded by barbed wire.

Unable to counter the artillery fire, Gorham decided to make for Piano Lupo. The move would have several advantages: it would put him on his objective and closer to the 16th RCT, which he was supposed to contact; it would probably facilitate contact with other paratroopers. Even though naval gunfire began to come in on the Italian column, Gorham had no way of controlling or directing the fire. Leaving one squad to cover the withdrawal, he started the paratroopers south, staying well east of the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road to escape the effects of the naval fire. It was then close to 0930.

[N2-7-1010AB: There is a brief account of this action in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment AAR, 9-11 July 1943, and in 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily and Italy, pp. 10-11. A complete account is contained in the Sayre narrative, The Operations of Company A, 505th Parachute Infantry. The material presented by General Gavin in Airborne War/are, pp. 6-8, is drawn from Sayre’s account.]

The naval gunfire had come in response to a call from observers with the 16th RCT’s leading battalions, which were moving toward Piano Lupo. Because the RCT’s direct support artillery unit, the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, was not yet in firing position, the destroyer Jeffers answered the call with nineteen salvos from her 5-inch guns. A few of the Italian tanks were hit, but the majority were unscathed. No Italian infantry ventured past the Piano Lupo road junction, for they preferred to take cover from the relatively flat trajectory naval fire in previously prepared defensive positions. Masked on the south by high ground that caused most of the naval fire to overshoot the junction, the Italian infantrymen reached and occupied their positions just a few minutes ahead of Gorham’s paratroopers.

[N2-7-11FA: The 7th Field Artillery Battalion managed to get its personnel ashore early on D-day, but its howitzers were aboard the LST’s which veered off into the 45th Division’s zone. Two batteries were unloaded during the course of 10 July east of the Acate River and were moved up the beach (northwestward) and across the river by late afternoon The Italian tanks that passed through the fire, about twenty, continued past the we were shooting at, we would have cut loose with the whole fifteen, gun battery.” (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. [03.)]

The cruiser Boise, at the request from the pilot of one of her scout planes, had previously fired two minutes of rapid fire with 6-inch guns at the same target. Apparently the Boise’s skipper was not aware of the nature of the target. The scout planes, continually harassed by enemy fighter planes, had to take continual evasive action as long as they were in the air and had little opportunity to keep any target in sight long enough to accurately adjust fires. road junction and turned on Highway 115 toward Gela.[ N2-7-13] They proceeded downhill only a short way. The two forward battalions of the 16th RCT, though armed only with standard infantry weapons, knocked out two of the tanks, thoroughly disrupted the Italian thrust, and halted the column. Without infantry support, its artillery under heavy counterbattery fire from American warships, the Italian tankers broke off the fight and retired north into the foothills bordering the Gela.

[N2-7-13: The [6th RCT reported twenty tanks in this attack. (1st Inf Div G-3 Jnl, entry 17, 10 J ul 43.) The exact number of tanks in this group is not known. One report indicates Mobile Group E had nearly fifty tanks when it started its movement on 10 July (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 103). Another report (MS # R-[25 (Bauer)) indicates that the Italian unit had one company (twelve to fourteen) of Renault 35 tanks; possibly sixteen 3-ton tanks; and possibly som,e Fiat “3,000” tanks. The Renault tanks, captured from the French in [940, weighed two tons and were armed with 37-mm. guns. From reports contained in other American sources, the number of Italian tanks appears to have been between thirty and forty total in both Italian groups.] 

The threat dispersed, the 16th RCT resumed its movement to the Piano Lupo road junction. But Gorham’s paratroopers, approaching from the opposite direction, arrived first. After reducing one Italian strongpoint, the paratroopers made contact with scouts from the 16th RCT at 1100. [N2-7-15] The 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Denholm), then cleaned out several remaining Italian positions around the road junction, a task facilitated by a captured map, while the 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Crawford) and the paratroopers moved across the road and occupied high ground to the northwest.

 [N2-7-15 In a letter received by OCMH 26 December 1950, Brigadier General George A. Taylor (Ret.), former commander of the 16th RCT, noted: “Any report that any unit of the 82nd Division captured anything and turned it over to me is without foundation.” But the 16th Infantry’s report of action shows that paratroopers were on Piano Lupo by the time the leading elements of the RCT arrived. This is also shown in the 82nd Airborne Division’s records.]

Meanwhile the heterogeneous Ranger engineer force in Gela had observed a column of thirteen Italian tanks escorted by infantry moving south along Highway 117 toward the city-the right arm of Mobile Group E’s two-pronged attack. Another column, the Livorno Division’s battalion of infantry, could also be seen moving toward Gela along the Butera road. While the destroyer Shubrick started firing at the tank-infantry column on Highway 117, the Ranger-manned Italian 77-mm. guns opened up on the Livorno battalion.

The first Shubrick salvos halted the Italians in some confusion. But the tankers recovered a measure of composure; they resumed their movement, though fewer now, for several tanks were burning in the fields along the highway. Without further loss, nine or ten tanks dashed down the highway and into the city. But the same thing happened here that had happened on the Niscemi–Piano Lupo road-Italian infantrymen did not follow the tanks. And in the city, the Rangers and the engineers began a deadly game of hide and seek with the Italian tanks, dodging in and out of buildings, throwing hand grenades and firing rocket launchers. Colonel Darby jumped in a jeep, dashed down to the beach, commandeered a 37-mm. anti-tank gun, returned with it to the city and knocked out a tank. Another burned as Rangers and engineers teamed up, first to stop it and then to destroy it. After twenty minutes of this kind of fighting, the Italians started back out of the city hotly pursued by American fire. The Italian crews suffered heavily. Almost every survivor carried with him some kind of wound.

As for the Livorno Division’s battalion -in almost formal, parade ground formation, the Italian infantrymen advanced against the western side of Gela. The two Ranger companies firing their captured Italian artillery pieces took heavy toll among the closely bunched enemy soldiers. Rifles, machine guns, and mortars joined in as the range closed. Not a enemy soldier reached the city. Leaving behind numerous dead and wounded, the remnants of the Italian battalion fled. 17 The Italian thrust against Gela stopped, the 26th Combat Team moved from the Gela-Farello landing ground into Gela and made contact with Darby’s force by noon. Two battalions swept past the city on the east, cut Highway 117, and took high ground two miles to the north. With the city firmly in American hands, Colonel Bowen, the 26th RCT commander, began to think of seizing the terrain overlooking Ponte Olivo airfield from the west. Yet he was not anxious to start until he had adequate field artillery and armor support. As of noon, Bowen had neither. Nor was the situation along the Piano Lupo-Niscemi axis clear. South of Niscemi, the right column of Conrath’s two-pronged counterattack, the tank-heavy force, closed into its assembly area. The infantry-heavy force closed in the Biscari area. With all in readiness at 1400, five hours late, Conrath sent his Hermann Gӧring Division into its attack. The tank regiment struck the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, which had prepared defensive positions on ground overlooking the road junction at the coastal highway and had sent patrols almost to Casa del Priolo. Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion, along with Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers, bore the initial brunt of the German tank thrust, and soon Colonel Denholm’s 1st Battalion was drawn into the fight. Calls for naval gunfire soon had shells dropping on the Niscemi road, but the German tanks, accompanied by reconnaissance and engineer troops in an infantry mission, rolled slowly past Casa del Priolo.

Not far from Casa del Priolo the tanks slowed, sputtered, and eventually stopped. The tankers could not go on because they had nothing to cope with the five- and six-inch naval shells that came whistling in from the sea. Also, American small arms fire had knocked out the accompanying foot soldiers and had thrown the lead tanks into confusion. Then, too, no support developed from the infantry-heavy column on the left.

[N2-7-1818 None of the 16th RCT’s AT guns (37-mm. in the battalions, 57-mm. in the regimental AT platoon) were up at this time. The guns did not arrive until later that night and early the following morning.]

Conrath ordered the tank attack renewed at 1500. But even Conrath’s inspiring and hard-driving presence was not enough to furnish impetus. The attack failed to get rolling. Still uncertain about the location and the fate of the infantry heavy task force, which was supposed to have crossed the Acate River and attacked Piano Lupo from the southeast, Conrath called off his offensive action. “The tanks are trying to withdraw,” the16th Infantry reported around 1700. And at 1845, “Tanks are withdrawing, it seems we are too much for them.”

Conrath’s infantry force had jumped off at 1400, had promptly lost communications with division headquarters, and had run into the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, which, together with some paratroopers picked up along the way, was moving toward Biscari. Their attack blunted by the relatively small American force supported by one battery of the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the Germans came to a halt by 1530. Though the terraced terrain was well suited for infantry operations, dense groves of olive trees interfered with the movement of the heavy Tiger tanks that were part of the column.

Moreover, some of the Tigers, among the first produced, had defective steering mechanisms, and those that dropped out blocked the others. Inexperience among junior officers and some of the troop units, failure to get the Tiger tanks forward, and American tenacity on the ground stopped the German attempt.

Regaining communications later that afternoon, Conrath relieved the task force commander. After much prodding from Conrath and under a new commander, the infantry-heavy force regrouped and jumped off again. This time the German attack was better co-ordinated. The Tiger tanks led off, followed closely by foot soldiers. Breaking through the thin American lines, the Germans overran the positions of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, and took prisoner the battalion commander, Colonel Schaefer, and most of the surviving troops. The remnants of the battalion streamed south toward the coastal Highway 115.

[N2-7-20 Major General Stanhope B. Mason, former chief of staff of the 1st Infantry Division, a close, personal friend of Colonel Schaefer’s. later had the pleasure of seeing the former 45th Division battalion commander released by American troops from the U.S. V Corps in Germany in 1945. See comments of Major General Stanhope B. Mason on MS.]

The way seemed open for German exploitation that would endanger the 1st Division beaches, when the 3rd Battalion, 180th Infantry, suddenly appeared. Released from corps reserve to counter the German attack, this American force took defensive positions and held fast. Imminent American disaster was averted as the Germans unexpectedly panicked. German soldiers broke and ran in wild disorder, their officers finally stopping the rout just short of Biscari. The Americans were content to remain along a line paralleling the south side of Highway 115.

[N2-72121 180th Inf Regt AAR, 10 Jul 43; AGF Rpt 217; 171st FA Bn AAR; 45th Inf Div Arty AAR; MS #C-087 a (Bergengruen). The wartime German record states simply that the attack mounted by the Hermann Gӧring Division against the Allied forces advancing from the Gela beaches to the area west of Caltagirone did not bear results. See OR SUED, Meldungen, No. 0114, 0340, II Jul 43, and Daily Sit rep West, 10 Jul 43, in OKH, Tagesmeldungen WEST. It was apparently the early evening advance of the German force that was used in ONI, Sicilian Campaign, page 47, to indicate withdrawal of the 180th RCT to the beaches at 2150, 10 July 1943. No doubt part of the 1st Battalion did go all the way back to the beaches, but there is no indication that any part of the 3rd Battalion did the same.]

Some confused fighting among combat patrols lasted until well after dark. Though strong enemy forces ringed the Gela plain and the Acate River valley, though commanders were concerned about the arrival of supporting tanks and artillery and the extent of their frontages, the troops in the center of the American beachhead had earned the right to a brief pause.

On the army left, General Truscott sent the 15th RCT, his center unit, seven miles up Highway 123 toward Campobello, holding the others ready to counter Axis thrusts. Reconnaissance pilots had picked up the movement of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was returning from the western part of Sicily, and Truscott was preparing to meet the threat.

Landing the 3rd Division’s floating reserve, General Rose’s CC-A, would help, and the armored command began coming ashore over the beaches east of Licata and through Licata itself. Truscott planned to send the armor to Naro, a small town fifteen miles northwest of Licata, between Palma di Montechiaro on the south and Campobello on the east. With troops at Naro and Campobello, Truscott would block an important avenue of approach to the division’s beachhead from the northwest.

On the army right, General Middleton kept pushing his easternmost regiments, the 179th and 157th. By nightfall they were seven miles inland. In contrast with the 180th Infantry’s rough experience in the Acate River valley, the 179th Infantry had Colonel Taylor’s 3rd Battalion, and some paratroopers who had joined, at the outskirts of Vittoria before 1600. A few men entered the city, but small arms fire drove them out. Unwilling to unleash his supporting artillery until city authorities had a chance to surrender, Colonel Taylor spent much time trying to persuade a civilian to go into the city to bring out the mayor or some other municipal official. The civilian refused. Infantry attack preceded by artillery bombardment appeared the only solution.

Unknown to Taylor, negotiations for Vittoria’s surrender were already taking place. Three of the ubiquitous paratroopers had been in the city since early morning, having been captured by the Italians shortly after dropping to ground. Two by this time were roaring drunk. The third, 1st Lieutenant William J. Harris (Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry), was trying to persuade the Italian commander to capitulate. The approach of Taylor’s battalion strengthened Harris’ arguments considerably. At 1640, as American artillery units prepared to open fire, the Italians agreed to surrender. Beckoned by the hurried display of white flags, the infantrymen outside the city marched in unopposed.

Farther to the right, where Americans were moving on the Comiso airfield, Santa Croce Camerina was taken in the early afternoon as the result of an unplanned pincer movement. Colonel Murphy’s 1st Battalion, 15 7th Infantry, and Major Alexander’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, neither of which apparently knew of the other’s presence, attacked the town about the same time. The Italian garrison, concerned with Murphy’s approach from the west and totally unprepared for the paratrooper attack on the east, conceded defeat.

While Alexander’s paratroopers moved off to the north and west in search of a higher parachute headquarters, Murphy outposted the town and sent a partially motorized company thirteen miles northeast to Ragusa, the 1st Canadian Division objective. With only negligible opposition, the two motorized platoons entered Ragusa at 1800. No Canadians and only a few Italian soldiers were in the city. Since they were unwilling to chance an ambush during the night, the American platoons withdrew to the western outskirts, where the remainder of the company joined them shortly before midnight.

Sliding past Santa Croce Camerina on the west, the other two battalions of the 157th Infantry overran a strongpoint at Donnafugata. A four-truck motorized patrol to high ground northeast of Comiso secured an assembly area for the leading battalion. And from that point, Hill 643, the battalion the next day would support by fire the attack planned to seize the airfield.

The Beaches

By nightfall of D-day, 10 July, the Seventh Army was firmly established on Sicily. Only in the center was there cause for any immediate concern, and this stemmed from the failure of the airborne drop. The absence of paratroopers on Piano Lupo deprived the 1st Division of a reserve, put the 16th Infantry at a disadvantage, and increased the threat of enemy counterattack. The paratroopers had created confusion in enemy rear areas, but they had not seriously interfered with the movement of German and Italian units against the invasion.

The cause of failure lay with the troop carriers. As late as 10 June, three weeks before the invasion, observers had considered the 52d Troop Carrier Wing deficient in night formation flying, night navigation, and drop zone location during darkness. The wing had had only two practice missions at night under simulated combat conditions. One of these had scattered the 50Sth Parachute Infantry all along the flight route. Further training was impossible after 20 June because of the need to start moving troops and planes to the advanced take-off airfields.

On the evening of 9 July, serious doubts had existed in some quarters on the ability of the troop carrier units to deliver the paratroopers to the correct drop zones; at least one commander felt that the Troop Carrier Command was far too optimistic about the proficiency of the aircraft crews. Late in July 1943, General Ridgway was unequivocal in stating that the operation “demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Air Force … cannot at present put parachute units, even as large as a battalion, within effective attack distance of a chosen drop zone at night.”

German commanders tended to minimize the effect of the American airborne operation. Colonel Hellmut Bergengruen, a staff officer with the Hermann Gӧring Division, judged that the airdrops “were made in rear of the Italian coastal divisions, but in front of the German units and did not interfere with the conduct of the battle.” He conceded only the possibility that the parachute landings might have helped cause panic among some Italian units. Generalmajor Walter Fries, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division commander, was less impressed. “Since they landed in front of the Germans,” he wrote later, “even if they were in rear of the Italian troops, there was little prospect of their being able to intervene decisively.”

Kesselring took a different tack. Admitting that the paratroopers “effected an extraordinary delay in the movement of our own troops and caused large losses,” he was more inclined to place blame on the leadership of General Conrath and other officers of the Hermann Gӧring Division. The command, he said, “was not fortunate.” Because the “march groups” were “incorrectly composed,” the paratroopers delayed the division. “It is incorrect armor tactics,” Kesselring continued, “for the tank units to march separate from the armored infantry as occurred here. With proper composition of the march groups the armored infantry riflemen would quickly have cleared out the snipers.”

[N2-7-28 MS #T-2 K 1 (Kesselring), pp. 20-21; Quotation from copy of a draft, initialed “Z,” 16 Jul 43.> OB SUEDWEST, Abt. Ie, I8.VI·43-I:I3.II.44 (Heeresgruppe “C,” 75138/28). A summary of the analysis is given in OKW/WFSt, KTB, I.-3I.vIII.43, [3 July 1943. This analysis of the first direct German experience against a large-scale amphibious attack was immediately transmitted by OKW to the headquarters in the other OKW theaters of war and areas under its command.]

Very probably this analysis was the basis for the statement of Generaloberst Kurt Student in October 1945 that “It is my opinion that if it had not been for the Allied airborne forces blocking the Hermann Gӧring Armored Division from reaching the beachhead, that division would have driven the initial seaborne forces back into the sea.” General Patton’s solution to the vacuum created by the unsuccessful airborne drop was to get his floating reserve ashore. In the early afternoon, as the threat of the Axis counterattack developed in the center, Patton directed General Gaffey to land his 2nd Armored Division (less CC-A but augmented by the 18th RCT) in the 1st Division’s zone, to assemble just inland, and to prepare for commitment as later ordered. A second, reinforcing airborne drop, considered for that evening and shelved in view of the need for armor ashore, was tentatively scheduled for the following night. 

[N2-7-29 The landing of the Seventh Army’s floating reserve is covered in: 2nd Armored Division in the Sicilian Campaign, a research report prepared at Fort Knox, 1949-50 (cited hereafter as 2nd Armd Div in Sicilian Campaign), p. 20; 2nd Armd Div AAR, 22 Apr-25 Jul 43; WTF Action Rpt, p. 25; Comments of Col Redding L. Perry on MS; Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 108; 18th Inf Regt AAR, Jul 43: Lieutenant Colonel F. M. Muller, “2nd Armored Division Combat Loading, Part Two, Sicily,” Armored Cavalry Journal, vol. 56 (September-October 1947), pp. 9-I 3 ; CC-B, 2nd Armd Div AAR, Jul 43; Interv, Smyth with Lt Col Russel G. Spinney (former CO Co F, 18th Inf Regt), 31 Oct 50]

Throughout the morning the armored division’s headquarters aboard the transport Orizaba had been intercepting messages from the 1st Division to the Seventh Army, messages that urged the immediate landing of artillery and armor to support the assault units. By noon not one piece of artillery nor any of the ten tanks attached to the 1st Division had gotten ashore.

Just before 1400, Gaffey received the order to land. He was to go ashore over the 1st Division’s Yellow and Blue Beaches, the beaches nearest Gela. Returning to the Orizaba, General Gaffey sent ashore his chief of staff, Colonel Redding L. Perry, to reconnoiter the assigned beaches and to make the necessary arrangements with the 1st Division for assembly areas, routes, and guides. On shore, Perry discovered a picture quite different from that visualized on the Monrovia. General Allen, the 1st Division commander, expressed concern about getting armor ashore. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, the assistant division commander who had visited all the division beaches, brought word that Yellow and Blue were heavily mined-both had been closed. He strongly recommended bringing in the 2nd Armored Division across Red Beach 2. Apprised of Roosevelt’s recommendation upon Perry’s return, Gaffey approved the change to Red 2, even though it entailed some delay in amending the previous orders.

About 1700, the command echelon of Colonel I. D. White’s CC-B landed on Red Beach 2. After contacting General Allen and reconnoitering several possible assembly areas, White settled on a site near the Gela-Farello landing ground which was being vacated by the rearmost units of the 26th Infantry.

The first unit scheduled to land was the 18th RCT. When General Gaffey learned that the LCI’s carrying the unit had remained in a cruising formation during the day instead of shifting to the planned landing formation, he nevertheless ordered debarkation from the cruising formation, counting on subsequent reorganization on shore. Because the beach was unsuitable for LCI’s, the beach-master was expected to provide LCVP’s to discharge the men from the LCI’s and take them ashore. But apparently because of a failure in communications between the landing craft and the beach-master, LCVP’s were not available, so the LCI’s approached as near to shore as possible and the infantrymen waded the rest of the way through the high surf. One officer and two enlisted men were drowned. Considerable equipment was lost. But the first wave was ashore by 2130; the entire regiment was on the ground soon after midnight.

Colonel George A. Smith moved his regiment into an orchard near the landing ground. The dismounted riflemen of the 1st Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, landed soon afterwards and took positions nearby. Two platoons of Company I, 67th Armored Regiment, came ashore at 0200, 11 July, and the ten medium tanks immediately stalled in the soft sand. High surf and beach congestion prevented the landing of additional armored vehicles.

By morning of 11 July, the chief result of Patton’s decision to land the army’s floating reserve was that four additional infantry battalions equipped with hand carried weapons only were ashore. The ten medium tanks were still having considerable trouble getting off the beach.

Difficult beach conditions had not only interfered with landing the reserve, they had impeded all the other landings. The delay in the arrival of the 1st Division’s supporting artillery and armor could be traced to enemy artillery fire, particularly in support of the various counterattacks, to enemy air raids against Allied shipping lying off the Gela beaches, and to the poor beaches themselves. Enemy air strikes had begun two hours after the invasion. After daylight, enemy batteries inland, from Ponte Olivo to Niscemi, had started pounding the beaches. By 0900, such heavy fire came in that Yellow Beach (26th Infantry) was closed. Shipping was diverted eastward to Blue Beach.

Enemy artillery fire soon forced this beach to be closed, too, and boat traffic was again diverted eastward, this time to Red Beach 2. Soon after 1000, enemy shelling became so accurate that this beach had to be closed for twenty minutes. Only one beach, Green 2, was then available to receive landing craft. Though Red 2 was reopened at 1030, enemy artillery fire and intermittent enemy air attacks throughout the day greatly delayed unloadings and did considerable damage to landing craft and beach supply. Even after the enemy artillery fire slackened, both Yellow and Blue Beaches remained closed because numerous uncleared mine fields lay in the dune area just back from the shore.

The closing and shifting of beaches created serious problems, particularly in getting the 1st Division’s heavy equipment ashore. General Allen’s calls for armor and artillery support during the morning were so pressing that Admiral Hall finally ordered in those LST’s carrying the heavy equipment even though there were few places to accommodate the large landing ships. Furthermore, because of the assumption that the Gela pier would be captured intact and put to immediate use, Hall’s naval task force had only three pontoon causeways. One, unfortunately, was carried by one of the three LST’s that had beached by mistake in the Scoglitti area.

One causeway was finally rigged on Red Beach 2. By 1030 one LST was fully unloaded and a second was moving in to start. As other LST’s began rigging the second causeway on Green 2 late in the afternoon, an enemy aircraft coming in low dropped a bomb directly on one of the landing ships. Loaded with elements of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion and an antiaircraft artillery battalion, the LST blew up with a horrendous roar, scattering fragments of trucks, guns, and exploding ammunition in all directions.

All of the vehicles of Battery A, 33rd Field Artillery, and of one section of the antiaircraft battalion were lost. Fortunately, the howitzers were already ashore, having been landed by Dukws. But what was more serious was the fact that fragments from the exploding LST knocked out the pontoon causeway in operation on Red Beach 2.

By 1800, only three LST’s had been unloaded over the Gela beaches. Only one field artillery battalion and four separate field artillery batteries were ashore. These were the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion (minus two howitzers lost when Dukws overturned on the way to shore); two batteries of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion (the howitzers were landed in the 45th Division zone, the personnel in the 1st Division’s area); and two batteries of the 5th Field Artillery Battalion (delayed in landing until late afternoon when the LST carrying the batteries made landfall off Licata and had to traverse almost the entire length of both the 3rd Division and 1st Division beaches). Available all together were eighteen 105-mm. howitzers and eight 155-mm. howitzers. As for the 16th RCT’s Cannon and Anti-tank Companies, they were unloaded in the 45th Division’s zone, and were still east of the Acate River.

With Red Beach 2 receiving everything coming ashore, it became so congested with landing craft and supplies that many of the small craft had to turn away without unloading. Beach parties were completely swamped with work even before the 18th RCT started ashore. And General Allen continued to call for more artillery and armor.

Across the Acate River, the 45th Division beach situation was little better, although more supporting units did move ashore during the day. Except for the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the 180th RCT’s direct support battalion, the division artillery landed in good fashion. [N2-7-32] The medium tank battalion came ashore in the 157th RCT’s sector during the late afternoon.

[N2-7-32 In the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, Battery A was badly scattered in landing: some of its vehicles landed on the proper beach, but the howitzers unloaded on the 1st Division’s Red Beach 2 and other battery impedimenta on the 179th RCT’s beaches nearer Scoglitti. The battery was not ready to fire until 2000, and then with only three pieces. The fourth howitzer arrived near midnight. Battery B was also scattered on landing but got itself together quickly and was ready to fire at 1230. It moved to a new position at 1530 and fired its first mission fifteen minutes later in support of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry. Because of the shortage of landing craft, Battery C remained afloat until 11 July.]

But, in general, the 45th Division beaches presented a most deplorable picture throughout D-day. Backed by soft sand dunes and with few usable exits, the five assault beaches were cluttered with masses of stranded landing craft and milling groups of men and vehicles soon after the initial landing. Many landing craft were hung up on offshore sand bars, unable to retract. Others broached on the beaches, the sea breaking completely over some, eddying into others over lowered ramps. Scattered and disorganized shore parties were still not functioning properly as late as 0800. In the meantime, landing craft waited on the beaches for three to four hours to be unloaded. Because the efforts of the naval salvage parties to get stranded craft off the beaches were largely unsuccessful, a diminishing number were available to unload the supplies still on board the transports. An inshore movement of the transports just after 0600 helped a little, but the ever-growing shortage of landing craft soon vitiated even this slight improvement.

Because they were simply unsuitable, all the southern beaches except Blue 2 were closed at 1050, and even though Blue 2 was no prize, it had a good exit. North of Scoglitti, Red and Green Beach traffic used the exit road from Yellow Beach, where the sandy area behind the beaches was smaller in size.

Concerned by the beach conditions and the serious loss of landing craft, Admiral Kirk sent one of his transport division commanders ashore in the middle of the morning to see what could be done to alleviate the situation. The report was pessimistic: between 150 and 200 stranded landing craft on the beaches; insufficient naval salvage parties; not enough beach exits; poor boat handling; poorer shore party work. Except for trying to get some of the stranded craft off the beaches and back into operation, there was little that could be done.

In the early afternoon, after the division shore party command post and a reinforced engineer shore company moved into Scoglitti and reconnoitered the area around the village, Admiral Kirk and General Middleton were told it was advisable to close the three northern assault beaches at noon the next day and to open six new beaches-three above Scoglitti, two at Scoglitti itself, and one just below the village. Both commanders approved the recommendation, but improvement was still almost two days away. [N2-7-3333: AGF Rpt 2 I7; Morison, Sicily-SalernoAnzio, pp. 138-41. On 13 July, another set of beaches was opened above Scoglitti, and another beach was added to the one below Scoglitti. Morison (page 140) states that a survey as of noon, 11 July, revealed that only 66 of the original 175 LCVP’s and LCM’s in this naval task force were still usable. The 18 transports left almost 200 LCVP’s on the beaches, many of which were subsequently salvaged.]

Only in the 3rd Division sector was the beach situation satisfactory. Red and Green beaches west of Licata were closed very early and all further unloadings were made over the two beaches east of the city and in the port itself. Enemy air attacks spilling over from the 1st Division beachhead were a nuisance, but none caused more than superficial damage to the mounting accumulation of supplies at the dumps.

[NOTE: Most of the 3rd Division’s LST’s were unloaded in Licata harbor. On 10 July 1943, over the Gela beaches, 20,655 men, 1,027 vehicles, and 2,000 long tons of supplies were put ashore. Over the Licata beaches and through Licata harbor, [8,464 men, 3,310 vehicles, and 4,714 long tons of supplies were landed. (See Seventh Army Rpt of Opns, pp. E-15-E-16.) Figures for the 45th Division, Despite formidable obstacles the invasion thus far appeared eminently succession are lumped together for the three-day period 10-12 July 1943.]

The next test would be whether the Allies could stand up to the inevitable Axis attempts to push them back into the sea.

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Sicily; (2-8) Axis Threat

World War Two: Sicily (2-6): Allied Invasion July 1943

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World War Two: Saipan (2-6); Capture of Aslito Airfield

Counterattack Night of 15-16 June : Nightfall brought little hope of respite to the battle-weary marines on Saipan as they dug in on their narrow strip of beachhead with the Philippine Sea at their backs and a vengeful and still potent enemy lurking in the dark ahead. All had been alerted to the strong possibility of a night counterattack. Few doubted that it would come—the only questions being where, when, and in what force. In fact, by midafternoon of the 15th the Japanese high command on Saipan had already issued orders to drive the Americans back into the sea before daylight next day. To Tokyo, 31st Army radioed optimistically, “The Army this evening will make a night attack with all its forces and expects to annihilate the enemy at one swoop.” To the troops, the order went out, “Each unit will consolidate strategically important points and will carry out counterattacks with reserve forces and tanks against the enemy landing units and will demolish the enemy during the night at the water’s edge.”

First to feel the effects of these measures was the 6th Marines, 2nd Division, which held the left flank of the beachhead. About 2000, a large force of Japanese infantry, supported by tanks, bore down from the north along the coastal road. With flags flying, swords waving, and a bugle sounding the Japanese fell upon the marines’ outposts. Unhappily, the 2nd Marine Division had been able to land none of its 105-mm. howitzer battalions during the day so the regiment under attack had only one battalion of 75-mm. pack howitzers to support it. However, naval star shells fired from American destroyers lying close off the coast silhouetted the attackers as they approached, and the first attack was stopped by the withering fire of machine guns and rifles, assisted by naval 5-inch guns.

A second, though smaller counterattack developed in the same area around 0300 on the 16th. It, too, failed to penetrate the marines’ lines. Finally, just before daylight another organized force of infantry and tanks rolled down the road from Garapan. Again, the Japanese were repulsed, this time with the help of five American medium tanks. By dawn the full measure of the enemy’s failure was revealed. About 700 Japanese lay dead just to the north of the 6th Marines flank.

In the zone of the 4th Marine Division, enemy countermeasures on the night of 15-16 June were less well organized and less powerful. Also, the 4th Division had all three of its 105-mm. howitzer battalions ashore by nightfall and was in a better position to resist.5 On the southern beaches, small groups of enemy soldiers, one shielded by a spearhead of civilians, hit once at 0330 and again an hour later. Both thrusts failed, with much of the credit for the successful defense going to a battalion of 105-mm. howitzers.

The most vulnerable spot in the 4th Marine Division’s zone of action, of course, lay on the exposed left flank, where the 23rd Marines had not yet tied in with the 2nd Division to the north. All through the night Japanese artillery fire swept the beaches in this area from one end to the other. From dusk to dawn small groups of the enemy managed to filter through frontline units only to be wiped out in the rear areas by either infantry or shore party personnel. Among the latter were the 311th Port Company and the 539th Port Company.

These were attached to the 4th Marine Division and were the first Army units to be put ashore on Saipan. Finally, at 0530, about 200 Japanese launched an organized attack. Through the gap it came, apparently aimed at the pier at Charan Kanoa. It too was stopped. Only a few individual enemy soldiers reached the beaches, where they were disposed of by members of the shore parties.

One important factor that contributed to the marines’ success in warding off these early morning counterattacks was the bright illumination provided by the Navy. The battleship California, assisted by two destroyers, cruised off the west coast of Saipan all night firing star shells to light up danger spots from which surprise attacks might be launched. That they were highly successful was later confirmed by 31st Army headquarters itself, “The enemy is under cover of warships nearby the coast; as soon as the night attack units go forward, the enemy points out targets by using the large star shells which practically turn night into day. Thus the maneuvering of units is extremely difficult“.

In spite of precarious holds on both the extreme flanks and the gap in the middle between the two divisions, the marines therefore succeeded in maintaining their positions and thwarting all major efforts to drive them back into the sea. Those few Japanese who managed to infiltrate behind the lines were wiped out without causing any considerable damage. The enemy plan of maneuver had relied in the main on repelling the American assault troops at the beach by counterattacks with artillery and tanks in support. As dawn broke on the morning of 16th June, the miscarriage of the Japanese first basic defense plan was more than evident.

Consolidating the Beachhead 16 June

Daylight brought to the grateful marines hugging the beaches a respite at least from the fearful dread of night counterattacks and infiltration. But immediate and pressing duties lay ahead. No more than a half of the designated beachhead (west of the O-1 line) was under their control.

Afetna Point had not been secured, which meant that a gap of about 800 yards lay between the two divisions. The tip of Agingan Point, the southwest extremity of the island, still remained in enemy hands. Finally, an unknown number of Japanese could be presumed to be still lurking behind the lines, ready to ambush the unwary and harass the attacking troops from the rear.

On the left (north) flank, the 6th Marines held fast and consolidated the positions won the day before. South of the 6th, the 8th Marines made rapid progress in its zone of action. Afetna Point offered little resistance, and the few Japanese left there after the previous night’s counterattack were quickly mopped up. By 0950 the right flank company of the 2nd Marine Division had reached Charan Kanoa pier and about two hours later established contact with the left flank of the 4th Marine Division.

The heaviest fighting of the day took place in the zone of the 4th Marine Division, especially on its right flank. Orders called for the capture of all ground lying west of the O-1 line along Fina Susu ridge by nightfall, but the assault was held up until 1230 while lines were rearranged. On the division right, the 25th Marines encountered considerable opposition from machine guns, mountain guns, and the antiaircraft weapons guarding the western approaches to Aslito field. By the end of the day’s fighting the 25th had overrun Agingan Point and accounted for five machine guns, two mountain guns, and approximately sixty Japanese combatants.

Meanwhile, the left and center regiments, the 23rd and 24th, moved abreast of the 25th Marines and by 1730, when the fighting was called off, the lines of the 4th Marine Division rested generally along the Fina Susu ridge line.

On the same day, to the north of the main area of fighting, additional elements of infantry and artillery were being landed on the beaches controlled by the 2nd Marine Division. By 1000 of the 16th those men of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, that had not come ashore on D Day were landed and took positions on the division left. Around 1600 the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which had originally been scheduled to invade Magicienne Bay, was landed, minus its heavy weapons, on the 2nd Marine Division’s beaches. The heavy weapons were subsequently dropped by parachute from carrier torpedo planes, but because the planes flew at a low altitude the equipment was almost completely destroyed.

At the same time that the remaining infantry elements of the 2nd Marine Division were being dispatched shoreward, the two 105-mm. battalions of the 10th Marines were also going into position in the area. About 1600 the 4th Battalion landed just north of Afetna Point and set up its batteries to support the 8th Marines, while an hour later the 3rd Battalion came ashore on Red Beach 3 behind the 6th Marines.

At 1515 on the 16th, General Harper, USA, commanding the XXIV Corps Artillery, left the flagship Cambria and an hour later arrived on Blue Beach 2 just south of Charan Kanoa. There, he set up his command post about a hundred yards inland from the southern edge of Blue Beach 2, and before dark advance parties of the 149th and 420th Field Artillery Groups, the 225th and 531st Field Artillery Battalions, and elements of his staff reported to him there. No corps artillery equipment came ashore on 16 June, and the advance elements spent an uneasy night dug-in in a partially destroyed enemy gasoline dump.

Night of 16-17 June

General Saito’s failure to “drive the enemy back into the sea” the first night after the landing did not discourage him from making a second try. During the afternoon of the 16th he ordered the 136th Infantry Regiment and the 9th Tank Regiment to launch a co-ordinated attack at 1700 toward the radio station that now lay behind the lines of the 6th Marines. Another, through un-co-ordinated, attack was to be carried out by the Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force from the direction of Garapan.

The scheduled hour came and passed, but the units assigned to the task were apparently too disorganized to carry it out on time. Meanwhile, the marines were able to prepare their night positions undisturbed except by artillery and mortar fire. About 0330 the Japanese struck—chiefly against the 6th Marines. No less than thirty-seven Japanese tanks were involved and perhaps a thousand infantrymen.

They approached the American lines through a ravine that cut westward through the mountains toward the radio station. The tanks came in groups of four and five, each with a few riflemen aboard. Each group of riflemen carried at least one light machine gun. When they came within range, they were met by a furious barrage of fire from the marines’ artillery, machine guns, mortars, bazookas, and rifles. Within an hour, a good percentage of the tanks had been either destroyed or incapacitated. Although the escorting infantrymen kept up the fight until about 0700, their efforts were fruitless. By the end of the battle the Japanese had lost at least twenty-four and possibly more of their tanks and an uncounted number of infantrymen. Saito’s second counterattack was a total failure.

Change of Plans

The initial plan for the capture of the Marianas had set 18 June as the tentative date (W Day) for the landing on Guam, which was to constitute Phase II of the FORAGER operation. On the night of 15 June, after it appeared that the marines could hold their narrow beachhead on Saipan, Admiral Spruance confirmed this date, and preparations were set under way for an immediate invasion of Guam. But before daybreak of the 16th, Spruance received new information that caused him to reverse his own decision.

At 1900 on the evening of 15 June, the U.S. submarine Flying Fish sighted a Japanese task force of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers making its way eastward through San Bernardino Strait in the central Philippines. Four hours later another submarine, Seahorse, reported another enemy task force about two hundred miles east of Leyte Gulf steaming in a northwesterly direction. It was clear that the Japanese Fleet was preparing to do battle and that the U.S. Fifth Fleet would be called upon to take the necessary countermeasures.

The next morning Admiral Spruance, in the light of these developments, postponed indefinitely the date for the invasion of Guam and joined Admiral Turner aboard Rocky Mount off the coast of Saipan. Together, Turner and Spruance decided that unloading should continue at Saipan through 17 June, that as many transports as possible would be retired during the night and that only those urgently required would be returned to the transport area on the morning of the 18th. The old battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the Saipan bombardment group would cover Saipan from the westward, and Admiral Conolly’s force would be withdrawn well to the eastward out of any presumable danger from enemy naval attack. Certain cruiser and destroyer units heretofore attached to Admiral Turner’s Joint Expeditionary Force were to be detached and directed to join Admiral Mitscher, who would carry the brunt of the attack against the approaching enemy fleet. Patrol planes based in the Marshalls were to be dispatched forthwith and would prepare to make night radar searches as far as 600 miles west of Saipan. Finally, Admiral Mitscher was ordered to discontinue all support aircraft operations over Saipan and restrict his carrier air operations on 17 June to searches and morning and afternoon neutralization strikes on Guam and Rota. Thus were begun the preparations for the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

First Landings of the 27th Infantry Division

The imminence of a full-scale naval battle also demanded an immediate decision regarding the disposition of the troops of the 27th Division, which had been assigned to corps reserve. The division had sailed from Oahu in three separate transport divisions under command of Rear Admiral William H. P. Blandy and was scheduled to reach Saipan the day after the main landings. On 15 June, while still en route to the objective, the 106th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was detached from the division and ordered to join Admiral Conolly’s Southern Attack Force as the reserve force for the Guam invasion, which at that time was still scheduled to take place on 18 June. Shortly before noon of the 16th, when the ships carrying the other two regiments were still about thirty miles from Saipan, General Ralph Smith, aboard the transport Fremont, was notified by radio that the division, less the 106th RCT, was to land as soon as practicable over the beaches held by the 4th Marine Division. The general himself was ordered to report to Cambria, flagship of Admiral Hill and headquarters of Brig. General Graves B. Erskine, USMC, chief of staff to Holland Smith.

Aboard Cambria, General Ralph Smith received his orders to land his division artillery as soon as possible to support the 4th Marine Division. The 165th Regiment was to land immediately and move to the right flank of the 4th Marine Division, to which it would be attached. The 105th Regiment would follow. The 106th was to remain afloat as reserve for the Southern Landing Force for the Guam operation, which by now had been postponed indefinitely. As soon as the 105th Regiment and other elements of the division were ashore they were to unite with the 165th and relieve the 4th Marine Division on the right zone, which included Aslito airfield.

General Ralph Smith returned to his own flagship about 1930, where the assistant division commander, Brig. General Ogden J. Ross, and the 165th Regiment commander, Col, Gerard W. Kelley, were anxiously awaiting him. Kelley had already instructed his executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Hart, to land the regimental combat team over Blue Beach 1 immediately south of the Charan Kanoa pier. Ross and Kelley were then ordered to go ashore, establish contact with the 4th Marine Division, and to make whatever arrangements were practicable during the night. The two officers, accompanied by a small advance group, left Fremont about 2100. The coxswain of their small boat lost his way, and, after much fumbling in the dark and many futile inquiries among other landing craft in the area, the party finally located a guide boat to steer them through the channel to Blue Beach 2, where they waded ashore about 0130.

In spite of the darkness and confusion on the beach, they succeeded in locating the command post of the 23rd Marines about 300 yards south of the point where they had landed. General Ross raised 4th Marine Division headquarters by telephone and was informed that the 165th Regiment was expected to move to the right flank of the line and jump off at 0730. By this time it was 0330 and the Army troops were scattered along the beach over a three-mile area. General Ross and Colonel Kelley immediately set forth to locate the command post of the 4th Marine Division. There, Kelley was ordered by the division chief of staff to pass through the lines held by the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, and relieve on his left elements of the 25th Marines. Jump-off hour for the attack toward Aslito field was confirmed as being 0730.

Meanwhile, Colonel Kelley had established telephone contact with his executive officer, who reported that the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 165th Infantry had landed. [N2-6-18] After getting his orders, Kelley joined the two battalions and moved them south along the road running down the beach from Charan Kanoa. Just before dawn they took positions along the railroad embankment paralleling and east of the coastal highway and about 1,000 yards behind the line of departure. As the first glimpses of light appeared in the eastern sky before them, they prepared to jump off in support of the 4th Marine Division. During these same early morning hours, three of the 27th Division’s four artillery battalions were also moving toward shore. The 105th Field Artillery Battalion landed at Blue Bleach 1 at 0515 and by 1055 was in position and ready to fire in support of the 165th Regiment. The other two field artillery battalions (the 106th and the 249th) came ashore somewhat later but were registered and ready to fire by about the same time. The fourth battalion, the 104th Field Artillery Battalion, remained afloat and detached from division artillery. 

[N2-6-18 The 3rd Battalion, 165th RCT, remained afloat during the night. Part of the landing team stayed aboard ship because of the scarcity of landing craft; the remainder spent the night aboard landing craft, unable to locate the Charan Kanoa channel. 3rd Bn 165th RCT Jnl, 16 Jun 44. ]

D Plus 2: 17 June 165th Infantry

The immediate objective assigned to the 165th Infantry, which was attached to the 4th Marine Division, was Aslito airfield and as much of the surrounding area as could be secured in a day’s fighting. Before that could be accomplished, the regiment would have to take the small village that lay on the boundary line between its two battalions, pass through a series of densely planted cane fields, and seize the ridge that ran in a southwesterly direction along most of the regimental front and that commanded the western approaches to the airfield.

The ridge at its highest points was about 180 feet. The distance between the line of departure and the westernmost point of the airfield along the regiment’s line of advance was roughly 1,500 yards. Colonel Kelley placed his 1st Battalion on the right, his 2nd on the left. Major James H. Mahoney, commanding the 1st Battalion, disposed B Company on the left, and A Company on the right just inshore of the southern coast of the island. Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough put his E Company on the right and G Company on the left, tying in with the 25th Marines.The 1st Battalion crossed the line of departure at 0735, the 2nd about fifteen minutes later. Company A, on the right, immediately ran into a fire fight. Three Japanese pillboxes located just inland from the beach opened fire on the advancing troops and were not eliminated until an amphibian tank had been called in to assist and engineers were brought up to place shaped charges and scorch out the enemy inside with flame throwers.

Along the rest of the regimental line the troops ran into no difficulty until they approached the small settlement that lay on the boundary line between the two battalions. As B Company tried to skirt south of the village, it came under simultaneous fire from the direction of the village itself and from the ridge to the eastward, 1st Lieutenant Jose Gil, B Company’s commander, called for an air strike at 0955, but five minutes later canceled the request in favor of artillery fire from the 14th Marines.

For the next two hours the whole line was more or less immobilized. It had become apparent that the ridge line in front was strongly held by the enemy. The ridge itself was covered by sparse undergrowth and the approaches to it were all across open cane fields. The cane offered some cover from enemy observation as long as the terrain was level, but entrenched as they were on the hill above these fields, the Japanese could follow every movement made by the Americans approaching below them. By noon Colonel Kelley had more troops available. The 3rd Battalion, part of which had remained aboard its transport while the other part spent the night offshore in small boats, was finally landed and assembled during the morning. Company I was ordered to report to the 1st Battalion commander to act as reserve in place of C Company, which was now to be committed to the support of Company B.

At 1150 the 1st Battalion moved off again in the attack with A Company on the right, B on the left, and C to the rear of B. At 1230 the 2nd Battalion jumped off following a fifteen-minute artillery preparation. Immediately, the 1st Battalion came under a concentration of mortar and machine gun fire from the high hill that marked the southern extremity of the ridge line. For the next hour and fifteen minutes this position was pounded by the field pieces of the 105th and 249th Field Artillery Battalions as well as by naval gunfire. At 1414 the attack was resumed. By 1535 Company A had gained the crest after losing three men killed and four wounded. About an hour later it was joined by two platoons of B Company, but the third platoon got involved in a fire fight in the cane fields below and failed to reach the summit during the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, a gap had developed between Companies B and E, and the 1st Battalion commander ordered Captain Paul Ryan to pull his C Company around to the left of B. Ryan was ordered to make a reconnaissance to determine whether he could move to the right behind A Company and up the ridge by the same route it had taken. Once on the ridge, it was supposed that he could move his company directly to the left and take position on the left of Company B. Ryan made the crest with about half of his second platoon, but the rest of his company failed to reach the objective.

While Company A and most of Company B on top of the hill were digging in and Company C was attempting to reinforce them by various routes, the Japanese again struck. Starting about 1725, the enemy managed to work his way between B Company and the 2nd Battalion and commenced to pound the hill with mortars and the airfield. After about half an hour of this, both Lieutenant Gil and Captain Laurence J. O’Brien, commander of Company A, decided to move off the hill. Captain O’Brien moved over to his extreme left and ordered his platoons to withdraw by leapfrogging. The 3rd Platoon was to pull back behind the 2nd while the latter covered, and then the 2nd was to pull back below the ridge while the 1st covered. The 1st Platoon eventually withdrew down the hill while O’Brien himself covered its movement. The company commander was the last man down over the cliff.

Meanwhile, Captain Ryan, commanding Company C, decided to move off to the left to reinforce B Company and hold at least part of the hill if possible. His attitude was reflected by one of his men, Private First Class Cleve E. Senor: “I fought all day for this ridge,” Senor is reported to have said, “and by God I’ll help hold it.” Both Senor and Captain Ryan were killed in the attempt, and the C Company platoon joined Company A in its withdrawal to the beach.

Captain O’Brien led most of the withdrawing battalion back along the southern beach for a distance of about 1,400 yards, then cut inland where he met guides from battalion headquarters. Shortly after 2000 he reached the command post with elements of all three companies and dug in for the night practically at the line of departure from which the companies had attacked in the morning. Except for scattered elements that remained dug in along the approaches to the ridge, progress in the 1st Battalion’s zone of action had been nil. Casualties for the day’s fighting in the battalion were reported as 9 killed and 21 wounded.

The 2nd Battalion had been more successful. After the 1230 jump-off, E Company, on the battalion right, was immediately hit by an enemy artillery barrage that killed three men and wounded four others. Except for the 1st Platoon, the whole company retired to the extreme west edge of the village that lay on the battalion boundary line and for the next hour reorganized its scattered elements and evacuated its wounded. The 1st Platoon, however, instead of withdrawing when the artillery barrage hit, rushed forward in an effort to take concealment in the heavy cane at the foot of the ridge line. From there it began to move on to the ridge itself, but after the leading squad was cut off by Japanese fire, the rest of the platoon halted.

Captain Bernard E. Ryan, [N2-6-35] the company commander, had been with the forward elements of the 1st Platoon when his company was hit and was already in the cane field making a reconnaissance forward. With two of his men, he made his way through the cane and up to the top of the ridge. For thirty minutes they waited in vain for the rest of the platoon to come up, and when it finally appeared that they were isolated, Ryan decided to conduct a reconnaissance. For three hours this officer and his two men wandered around the hilltop observing the enemy from a distance sometimes of only thirty yards. He ordered one of his men, Staff Sergeant Laurence I. Kemp, to carry the information gained back to the company executive officer. Kemp, equally fearful of friendly and enemy fire along the return route, solved his dilemma by tying a white hankerchief to the barrel of his rifle, executing a right shoulder arms, and marching safely down the hill in full view of both the enemy and his own troops.

[N2-6-35 Ryan was the brother of Captain Paul Ryan, C Company commander, who was killed later in the afternoon while trying to hold a portion of this same ridge. Because of Paul Ryan’s death, men of the 27th unofficially named the position Ryan’s Ridge.]

Upon receiving Kemp’s information the battalion commander immediately requested reinforcements. Colonel Kelley released F Company, which was then moved into the line to the left of E. Both companies jumped off at 1610 behind a screen of heavy mortar, small arms, and automatic weapons fire. Within thirty minutes they reached the ridge line about two hundred yards west of Aslito field and began to dig in.

On the extreme left of the battalion front, Captain Paul J. Chasmar’s G Company met with little difficulty. By 1416, less than two hours after the jump-off, the company had reached the ridge line and commenced to dig in. Chasmar sent two patrols onto the airfield. They investigated the installations along the west side of the field and up to the south edge of the stretch without running into opposition. About 1530 temporary contact was established on the left with the 25th Marines, which had by this time penetrated into the building area north of the airfield proper.

Thus, by the end of 17 June the 2nd Battalion had succeeded in pushing about 1,300 yards from the line of departure, was firmly dug in just two hundred yards short of Aslito airfield, and was in a good position to attack the field the following morning. In the day’s fighting the battalion had lost six killed and thirty-six wounded. It failed to attack the airfield on the 17th only because of regimental orders to the contrary. Colonel Kelley decided that in view of the difficulty encountered by his 1st Battalion on the right flank, it would be unwise for the 2nd Battalion to push forward any farther. From its positions on top of the ridge line commanding Aslito, the 2nd Battalion “had an excellent field of fire against any possible counterattack,” so the regimental commander ordered it to hold there for the night and to resume the attack against the airfield the next day.

4th Marine Division

To the left of Colonel Kelley’s regiment the 25th Marines jumped off at approximately the same time in columns of battalions. Against light resistance the regiment pushed rapidly ahead to its O-2 line. Because of the marines’ more rapid progress, a gap developed between them and the 2nd Battalion, 165th Regiment that was filled by two companies of marines. By midafternoon the companies had searched the building area north of the airfield proper and sent patrols onto the field itself. When Colonel Kelley’s determination not to attack the airfield until the 18th became known to the 25th Marines, its 3rd Battalion was shifted to the north side of the airfield, facing south, and as it dug in for the night there was no contact between the marines and the Army unit.

In the center of the 4th Marine Division’s line, progress was more difficult The 24th Marines jumped off on time about 0730, In spite of continuous fire from antiaircraft guns located east of the airfield, the right flank battalion reached the foot of the ridge line quickly and by noon commenced the ascent. By 1630 the battalion commander reported that his men were digging in on the O-2 line. In the center and to the left enemy resistance was even stronger, and after reaching the approaches to the ridge by late afternoon, the marines withdrew a full 600 yards before digging in for the night.

To the 23rd Marines on the division’s left flank fell the hardest fighting in the 4th Marine Division zone for the 17th. On the right, the 2nd Battalion made fairly rapid progress against light opposition, but on the left, the 1st Battalion was not so fortunate. Having once cleared Fina Susu ridge, the marines started to advance across the open ground to the eastward but were quickly pinned down by heavy mortar and enfilade machine gun fire from their left front. After retiring to the ridge line to reorganize, the battalion pushed off again at 1500 after a ten-minute artillery fire. Again the attack was stopped. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion on the right had been pushing steadily forward .and contact was lost between the two battalions. Even more serious was the 600-yard gap on the left between the 23rd Marines and the right flank of the 2nd Marine Division. From this area came most of the enemy fire, and the failure of the two Marine divisions to close this gap early in the day seriously endangered the flanks of both.

As night approached it became apparent that, with the advance of the 2nd Battalion and the delay of the 1st, the right flank was extended and the left retarded so that it was impossible to close the gap with the units then on line. Consequently, the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, was ordered to tie in the flanks of the two. Later, the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, was attached to the 23rd Regiment and under cover of darkness was moved into position to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, tie in, and defend the gap between the two leading battalions. But between the two Marine divisions as they dug in for the night, the wide gap in the area around Lake Susupe still remained unclosed.

2nd Marine Division

In the zone of the 2nd Marine Division, the day’s plan called for an attack by the 2nd and 6th Regimental Combat Teams to the northeast, while the 8th Marines, on the division right, was to drive due east toward the O-1 line. The jump-off hour was originally scheduled for 0730 but was subsequently changed by General Holland Smith’s headquarters to 0930. Word of the change, however, failed to reach division headquarters in time, so the troops crossed the line of departure according to the original schedule, following a 90-minute intensive preparation by aerial bombardment, naval gunfire, and artillery shelling.

On the extreme right, the marines of the 2nd Division met with the same problems that were besetting the left flank of the 4th Division, and more besides. The 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, attached to the 8th Marines, had first to slosh its way through the sniper-infested swamp that ran about 1,000 yards north of Lake Susupe. Directly east of the swamp was a coconut grove from which periodically came enemy mortar fire, described in the division action report as “bothersome.” Northeast of the coconut grove was a high hill on which the Japanese were entrenched in caves, and beyond this on a sharp nose was a series of heavily manned positions.

Throughout the day the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, was unable to seize the coconut grove and in fighting for it the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Guy F. Tannyhill, was wounded and had to be evacuated. By late afternoon the battalion, with the help of four tanks of the 2nd Marine Tank Battalion, succeeded in taking the hill to the north of the grove where it dug in for the night. Meanwhile, the other two assault battalions of the 8th Marines had reached their objective line with little difficulty and were tied in for the night with the 6th Marines on their left. The 6th Marines had jumped off on schedule at 0730 and soon after 0900 had reached its objective line, encountering little resistance on the way. Further progress was held up because of the danger of overextending its lines as a result of the relatively slow progress of the 8th Marines on the right.

The 2nd Marines, on the division left, regulating its advance by that of the regiment to its right, moved forward at 0945 in a column of battalions. By 1020 the leading battalion had advanced four hundred yards against light resistance. By 1800 the regiment had reached its objective line, which was coincident with the Force Beachhead Line in its zone and lay only a thousand yards from the southern outskirts of the town of Garapan.

[NOTE: The Force Beachhead Line is the line that fixes the inshore limits of a beachhead.]

Landing Reinforcements

At 0605 on the 17th, Colonel Leonard A. Bishop received orders to land his 105th Regimental Combat Team as soon as boats were available. By 0845 the 1st Battalion was loaded and headed for the beach; the other two followed during the morning. However, because of low tide and the heavy congestion in and around the Charan Kanoa channel, the troops had to be landed piecemeal. Not until late afternoon were all of the infantrymen ashore. That evening the 2nd Battalion was attached to the 4th Marine Division as reserve, and the 1st Battalion was attached to the 165th Infantry and moved to an assembly area just west of Aslito field. Also, the 27th Division Reconnaissance Troop landed and commenced to establish an observation post area running from Agingan Point about 1,500 yards along the southern shore. The rest of the 105th Regiment remained in bivouac in the area of Yellow Beach 3 during the night.

The slowness with which the 105th Regiment was landed brought one later embarrassment to that unit. In view of the bottleneck at the Charan Kanoa channel, orders were issued shortly after noon to stop unloading equipment through the channel until the congestion had been cleared up. This caught most of the regiment’s organizational equipment still aboard the transport Cavalier. That night Cavalier, along with most of the other transports, retired eastward after an air raid warning. Meanwhile, the Japanese fleet was reported to be moving toward Saipan. In the light of these circumstances, Cavalier was ordered to stay out of the danger zone and did not return until 25 June to continue unloading. As General Ralph Smith later testified: The 105th Infantry was thus placed under great handicap in operating as a regimental unit. It had very little communication equipment or personnel ashore, either radio or telephone. It had almost no staff facilities or blackout shelter such as regimental headquarters is compelled to use if orders arrive after dark.

North of the 27th Division’s beaches other important elements were coming ashore on the 17th. General Holland Smith left Rocky Mount in midafternoon and at 1530 set up the Northern Troops and Landing Force command post at Charan Kanoa. General Harper, corps artillery commander, moved his command post to a point about 200 yards inland from Yellow Beach 2, and advance parties of the 532nd Field Artillery Battalion got ashore.

Night of 17-18 June

Compared to the first night on Saipan, that of the 17th was quiet for the American troops in their foxholes. Only in the zone of the 2nd Marine Division did the Japanese exert themselves. Around midnight, they attempted to breach the Marine lines near the boundary between the 6th and 8th Regiments. About fifteen or twenty Japanese overran two machine guns, but the attack was shortly stopped. For a brief time the enemy penetration destroyed contact between the two regiments, but the gap was quickly filled and the lines were restored.

A more serious enemy threat occurred on the morning of the 18th in the form of an attempted counter-amphibious landing. A month before the American landings, 31st Army had established a force consisting of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, to be held in readiness for amphibious attacks on either Saipan or Tinian in the event the Americans were able to establish a beachhead. About 0430 on the 18th this group sortied from Tanapag Harbor in thirty-five small boats to put the plan into effect. The Japanese failed. LCI gunboats intercepted the boats and, with the help of Marine artillery, destroyed most of the landing party and turned back the rest.

This uninterrupted series of reverses sustained by the Japanese on Saipan merely reinforced their determination to hold the island at all costs. On the 17th the chief of the Army General Staff in Tokyo attempted to bolster the spirits of the defenders in a message to 31st Army headquarters: “Because the fate of the Japanese Empire depends on the result of your operation, inspire the spirit of the officers and men and to the very end continue to destroy the enemy gallantly and persistently; thus alleviate the anxiety of our Emperor.”

To which the Chief of Staff, 31st Army, responded: “Have received your honorable Imperial words and we are grateful for boundless magnanimity of the Imperial favor. By becoming the bulwark of the Pacific with 10,000 deaths we hope to requite the Imperial favor.”

D Plus 3: 18 June 27th Division

General Holland Smith’s orders for 18 June called for all three divisions under his command to seize the O-3 line within their respective zones of action. For the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Division this meant that the end of the day should see them resting on the eastern coast of Saipan from a point opposite Mount Nafutan up the shore line about 5,000 yards in a northerly direction to a point about one third up Magicienne Bay. From there the objective line for the 4th Marine Division bent back in a northwesterly direction to correspond with the advance of the 2nd Marine Division, which was not intended to cover so much territory. The boundary between the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division ran eastward to Magicienne Bay, skirting Aslito field to the north. Army troops were to capture the field itself.

For action on the 18th, the 27th Division had under its command only the 165th Regiment and the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 105th. The 2nd Battalion, 105th Regiment, remained in corps reserve in an area to the rear of the 4th Marine Division, and the 106th Infantry was still at sea. In spite of the fact that as early as 0758 the Marine division had notified General Ralph Smith that control of the 165th Regimental Combat Team was passing to Colonel Kelley, the regimental commander remained uncertain as to his own exact status. He later reported: I was unable to determine (by telephone conversation with Hq 4th Marine Division) whether I was still attached to the 4th Marine Division or had passed to the command of CG 27th Div. . . . Shortly after this, Major General Ralph Smith visited my CP and advised me that I should receive notice of my release from the Marines and reversion to the 27th Division. I did receive notice from the 27th Division but never received such orders from 4th Marine Division Headquarters. This confusion, however, though indicative of poor liaison, was to have no significant effect on the action of the units involved.

Jump-off hour for the two Marine divisions was to be 1000; for the Army division it was 1200. The Immediate concern of Colonel Kelley, however, was to recapture the ridge southwest of Aslito that his 1st Battalion had given up the previous day. Accordingly, at 0605, he ordered Major Dennis D. Claire to move the 3rd Battalion into the line on the right in order to launch a co-ordinated attack with the 1st Battalion at 0730. The 165th Infantry jumped off on schedule after a half-hour naval and artillery preparation along the whole front. The 1st and 3rd Battalions with four tanks preceding them stormed up the ridges while the 2nd Battalion on the edge of the airfield held its lines until the other units on its right came abreast, A few minutes after 1000 the ridge that had caused so much trouble the preceding day was secured against very light opposition and with negligible casualties to the assaulting units.

Meanwhile, at 0800, Colonel Kelley authorized his 2nd Battalion to cross Aslito airfield. Beginning about 0900, Captain Chasmar, commanding G Company, ordered his men across the airfield along the north side. Captain Francis P. Leonard, in command of F Company, followed suit shortly after, although he kept his company echeloned to the right rear in order to keep physical contact with E Company, which in turn was in contact with the 1st Battalion. Chasmar reported that he had crossed the airfield at 1000. Sixteen minutes later, Aslito was announced as secured.

That afternoon when General Ralph Smith arrived at the regimental command post the airfield was officially renamed Conroy Field in honor of Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, former regimental commander of the 165th, who had been killed at Makin. Later, it was renamed Iseley (sic) Field in honor of a naval aviator, Commander Robert H. Iseley, who had been shot down over Saipan.

Up until 1000 the troops that had overrun the airstrip had met no opposition. Only one Japanese was discovered on the whole installation, and he was found hiding between the double doors of the control tower. All of the Aslito garrison still alive had retired to Nafutan peninsula. Upon reaching the eastern end of the airstrip, Captain Chasmar stopped to build up his line because he had been having considerable trouble during the morning trying to cover his frontage. He had tried unsuccessfully to make contact with the marines on the left who were now veering off to the northeast and in his move across the airport had temporarily lost contact on the right with F Company. At the same time, F Company was itself developing large gaps between platoons. By 1100 the whole 2nd Battalion advance was stopped while the battalion commander waited for his companies to close up. For the next two hours the forward line remained stationary along the eastern boundary of the airfield. Unfortunately, the terrain in which G and F Companies had taken up positions was overlooked by the high ground of Nafutan ridge, and the men had hardly begun to dig in when they came under fire from dual-purpose guns located in that sector. The fire lasted for about two hours until friendly artillery was brought to bear on the Japanese positions, which were temporarily silenced.

With the airfield secure in the hands of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Regiment, and the ridge west and southwest of it occupied by the 1st and 3rd Battalions, General Ralph Smith rearranged his units to launch the main attack at noon as ordered. Into his right flank he ordered the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 105th Regimental Combat Team, which had landed the day before and so far had seen no action on Saipan.

On the extreme right the 3rd Battalion, 105th, completed the relief of the 3rd Battalion, 165th, at 1245, three quarters of an hour late.71 The 3rd Battalion, 165th, then went into reserve. About the same time, the 1st Battalion, 105th, relieved the 1st Battalion, 165th. The latter was then shifted to the left flank of the division line to close the gap between the 4th Marine Division and the 2nd Battalion, 165th, which was occupying the airfield. From right to left, then, the new division line consisted of Companies L, I, C, and A, 105th Infantry, and Companies F, G, B, and C, 165th Infantry, with the remaining infantry companies in reserve in their respective battalion zones.

As the afternoon wore on it developed that, as on the previous day, progress on the extreme right of the division front was the slowest, and again the chief obstacle was terrain. In the area inland from the southern coast the ground was a series of jagged coral pinnacles that jutted up from the water’s edge to a height of about 90 feet. Between these peaks were a heavy undergrowth of vines, densely planted small trees, and high grass. Against these odds, but luckily not against the added encumbrance of Japanese opposition, Company L on the extreme right advanced a mere 200 yards from the line of departure by nightfall, and I Company’s progress was only a little better. The situation on the left of the 105th Regimental line was somewhat more promising. In spite of artillery fire from Nafutan Point, Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Brien, 1st Battalion commander, succeeded by 1400 in pushing forward to a line running southwest from the southeast corner of the airfield.

While the 105th Regiment was having more than a little difficulty getting started on the division right flank, the 165th on the left was faring better. By 1700 the entire regimental line had almost reached Magicienne Bay, having met only light opposition. The original intention had been to proceed on to the water’s edge, but the heavy undergrowth and coral outcroppings persuaded the regimental commander to pull back to the high ground west of the shore line for the night. About 1700 the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, who was on the right flank of the 4th Marine Division line, reported the imminence of a Japanese counterattack between the 24th and 25th Marines. In view of the necessity of the latter’s pulling north to pour in reinforcements against this threat, the lines of the 165th were shifted left about 600 yards to establish contact with the marines for the night.

4th Marine Division

North of the 27th Division zone, the 4th Marine Division attacked toward the east coast with three regiments abreast: the 25th Marines on the right, 24th Marines in the center, and 23rd Marines on the left. The right half of the objective line for this day’s action was to be on the coast of Magicienne Bay, and from there it bent back to the northwest to meet the more slowly progressing 2nd Marine Division.

 

The 25th Marines jumped off on schedule at 1000. Opposition was light, and by 1330 the regiment had reached the beaches on Magicienne Bay well in advance of the 165th Infantry on its right. The occupation of these beaches on the east coast completed the initial drive of the division across Saipan. The island now, at this point at least, was cut in two. One battalion of the 25th Regiment was left behind to mop up the southern extremity of a heavily defended cliff line that had been bypassed by the 24th Marines on its left.

 

The latter regiment had had a little difficulty organizing its lines before the jump-off and consequently was delayed forty-five minutes in the attack. Nevertheless, in the face of “moderate to heavy” machine gun and rifle fire, it had succeeded by 1400 in pushing forward to a point only 300 yards west of Magicienne Bay. Then, about 1615, two Japanese tanks suddenly appeared in the zone of the 2nd Battalion, causing considerable anxiety and about fifteen American casualties before they were chased away by bazookas and artillery. By nightfall the elements of the 24th on the right had reached the O-3 line, part of which rested on the coast, and the unit was well tied in with the regiments on its right and left.

As was the case of the 165th Infantry, the 23rd Marines on the extreme left of the 4th Division line had to capture its line of departure before the scheduled jump-off hour. At 0730 the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines (attached to the 23rd) passed through the 1st Battalion, 23rd, with orders to seize the line of departure before the main attack, which was scheduled for 0900. The battalion never made it—not that day at least. Intense mortar and enfilade machine gun fire from the left flank stopped the men after an advance of about 200 yards. On the right the 2nd Battalion, 23rd, made about the same gain before it too was pinned down. At 1300 the attack was resumed and after fierce fighting against stubborn Japanese resistance the troops advanced about 300 yards. By 1715 the regiment had established a line some 400 yards east of Lake Susupe. Progress on the left flank of the 4th Marine Division had been far less than anticipated. It was becoming apparent that the main line of Japanese resistance would be in the area north and east of Lake Susupe and not in the southern sector of the island.

2nd Marine Division

The left flank of the corps line remained almost stationary during the 18th. As the 2nd Marine Division’s commander explained it, “At this stage, the frontage occupied by the Division was such that its lines could not be further lengthened without dangerously thinning and overextending them.”

The strong pocket of resistance encountered by the 4th Division near the division boundary line formed a hostile salient into the beachhead and forced both divisions to maintain abnormally long lines in the sector. The inability of the 4th Division to make substantial progress on its left flank in turn prevented the 2nd Division from risking further extension of its own lines. Only the 8th Marines saw significant fighting on the 18th. The enemy-infested coconut grove on the regiment’s right that had proved so bothersome the previous day was assaulted and captured. Here, a large number of Japanese dead were found. Before the 18th the enemy had systematically removed its dead before the advance of the attacking forces, but by now, with the American beachhead firmly established and Aslito airfield overrun, Japanese commanders on Saipan had more urgent matters on their minds.

The Japanese Situation

By the night of 18 June, the Japanese high command in Tokyo as well as its subordinates on Saipan were at last compelled to confess that the situation was critical. The island had been cut in two and the southern part, including the main airfield, was for all practical purposes in American hands. True, remnants of Japanese units, including most of the Aslito garrison, were still holed up on Nafutan peninsula and along the southern shore west of it, but they were cut off from the main body of troops and incapable of anything more serious than harassing attacks against the American lines.

In the face of unrelenting pressure from their attackers, the Japanese on the 18th began withdrawing to a defense line extending across the island in a southeasterly direction from a point just below Garapan via the south slopes of Mount Tapotchau to Magicienne Bay. To be more exact, the new “line of security” drawn up by 31st Army headquarters on the night of the 18th was to run from below Garapan east to White Cliff, then south to Hill 230 (meters) and southeast through Hill 286 (meters) to a point on Magicienne Bay about a mile west of the village of Laulau.

The line roughly paralleled the O-4, or fourth phase line of the American attackers, and was the first of two last-ditch defense lines scratched across the island in a vain attempt to stabilize the battle during the retreat to the north. If the Americans could be brought to a standstill, the Japanese hoped to prolong the battle and eventually win out with the aid of reinforcements. To Tokyo, 31st Army headquarters radioed its plans: Situation evening of 18 June: The Army is consolidating its battle lines and has decided to prepare for a showdown fight. It is concentrating the [43rd Division] in the area East of Tapotchau. The remaining units [two infantry battalions of the 135th Infantry, about one composite battalion, and one naval unit], are concentrating in the area East of Garapan. This is the beginning of our showdown fight.

In reply, Imperial General Headquarters ordered Major General Keiji Iketa to hold on to the beaches still in his possession, wait for reinforcements over those beaches, and “hinder the establishment of enemy airfields.” Iketa reported that he would carry out these orders, that Aslito airfield would be neutralized by infiltration patrols “because our artillery is destroyed,” and that the Banaderu (Marpi Point) airfield would be repaired and defended “to the last.” “We vow,” he concluded, “that we will live up to expectations.” Stabilize the battle, keep beaches open for reinforcements, recover and preserve the use of the Marpi Point airfield, and deny to the Americans the use of Aslito—these four objectives were now the cornerstones of Japanese tactics on Saipan.

And from the Emperor himself came words of solemn warning and ominous prescience: “Although the front line officers are fighting splendidly, if Saipan is lost, air raids on Tokyo will take place often, therefore you absolutely must hold Saipan.”

Five months later American B-29 bombers taking off from Saipan for Tokyo would confirm the Emperor’s worst fears.

SOURCE: Campaign in the Marianas; BY: Philip A. Crowl (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Saipan (2-7) Battle of the Philippine Sea (1)

World War Two: Saipan (2-5); Allied Invasion June 1943